Sunday, May 3, 2015

Guatemalan temari, the sequel

    Last year I wrote about working with two Guatemalan women, Berta Mendoza and her daughter Sofia in Panajachel, who I commissioned to embroider some temari for me. A year later, I was back. This time Berta embroidered two more balls for me. She felt—and I agreed—that her attempts this year were even more successful because she was more used to embroidering on a ball. If only I were such a quick learner, but the fact is that Berta has a lot more experience embroidering. Her balls this year featured birds like last year but she also used flowers.

Berta liked that I had put a simple four division on the ball with gold thread. It helped her visualize where on the ball to put her designs.

A second ball was on a lovely maroon background. I removed some of my marking thread when Berta was done because I preferred it when a line didn't go through a bird. (This ball had a simple four with equator and I removed some of the equator.) Look as this wonderful hummingbird. Usually Berta invents her own species of birds.

Again this year I spent a lot of time in Berta's store watching her stitch and sharing lots of laughs. It was very interesting to watch her select colors. It's a lot like my own technique: just holding up new colors next to the ball to choose the next color to use. I usually enjoy not having all my colors chosen before I do a project.

Here's another side of the same ball. with a very lively bird. I want to go to the universe where I can see Berta's birds.
I was so grateful to be able to spend time with my Guatemalan friends and cherish the balls they embroidered for me.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

String souvenirs

I've always found textiles to be excellent souvenirs. They are relatively light, non-breakable, and fit into the nooks and crannies of one's luggage. On a recent trip to Guatemala I took the concept a bit farther and acquired a lot of thread. We visited a village on Lake Atitlán called San Juan de la Laguna, known for handweaving and other crafts. Interestingly, this village has a lot of cooperatives: painters, weavers, even the drivers of the small three wheeled taxis called tuk tuks.
At the cooperative Corazon del Lago, they weave lovely shawls like the one above on backstrap looms with cotton thread they dye themselves. As soon as I saw the example skeins of naturally dyed threads, I wanted not only shawls but also thread to play with myself. Here's the display of dye stuffs and the resulting colors. This kind of dyeing has a long tradition in Guatemala but is in the process of being revived. I found the brilliance of the colors they could achieve really stunning.
The thread comes from India and has a lovely sheen. People in this area traditionally grew cotton but they can't produce enough for the amount of weaving they do now.
   I bought the thread with the idea of using it on temari balls. I've used some already but it's very fine, which limits its use. Now I'm looking into the possibility of having them custom dye some thicker thread which I might then market in a very small scale way. It's looking like a project that will be slow to come to pass but one that has me feeling very excited about sharing these beautiful colors.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Let the chrysanthemums bloom!

  One of the most traditional of temari stitches is the kiku or chrysanthemum stitch. It's easy stitch to learn. Some stitches look easy to the uninitiated but turn out to be difficult because they need to be done very neatly to look good. The kiku stitch is quite forgiving but also allows for much experimentation for more advanced stitchers. Recently I have stitched several temari with this stitch.
   This blue ball uses a very standard kiku stitch on a simple 8 division.
I experimented with a more elaborate obi around the equator than I usually use.
Another temari features a design called Red Dahlia from Barbara Suess's book Temari Techniques. It uses a variation called the ribbed kiku herringbone. For once I picked colors similar to the ones that Barbara used.
I found it really interesting to see how different the two hemispheres look even though there are only slight changes in the colors I used in the last few rows.
On a larger ball (35 cm. circumference) I stitched a ball with a kiku of a very interesting shape. This design, Unfolding Kiku, is from Barbara Suess's Etsy store and sold as an instant download.
As usual, Barb's instructions are very clear. Being in a mood for purple, I used very different colors that she did.
  The final ball of this series was a stitch-along with the Yahoo Temari Challenge group.
This is a wonderful group to belong to if you stitch temari. Even when a stitch-along is finished, you can find the instructions in the file section.
   With all the variations one can do with kiku, I'm sure there are many more chrysanthemums in my future. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

That warm fuzzy feeling

   As a long time avid knitter, I have built up quite a wardrobe of knit items for myself. Once in a while I do some knitting to donate.  It is some of the most satisfying knitting there is. My current favorite group to donate to is Afghans for Afghans. In spite of the name, they have now tend to focus their emphasis to sending small garments such as socks, mittens, and hats for babies and children. A quote from their web site:

Save the Children says that providing a wool cap to a newborn is one of the most cost-effective techniques to ensure child survival in the first few months.

With the difficulty and expense of shipping all the generous donations they get, they realized they can keep a lot more people warmer with many small items.
  This year I knit these baby socks for a campaign they ran. Aren't they cute?

Then I knit these mittens for someone about 7 or 8 years old. I think.
The great thing about knitting for donation is that the exact size is not critical. They will find someone that is the right size. Afghans for Afghans periodically announces campaigns when they have a group to partner with in Afghanistan. I encourage you to take part in one of their campaigns or find another group that accepts knitted donations. It will give you a lovely warm feeling. Here's a page on Ravelry that lists all kinds of organizations that distribute knitted items to people that need them.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Incan inspiration

  When we were in Peru several years ago, I acquired some beautiful weavings including this bag.
The quality of weaving and natural dyeing in Peru is amazing. As a former weaver, I am in awe of the weavings they create with the simplest of technology.
   Starting in Peru, I acquired the questionable habit of buying a ball or two of alpaca yarn in colors that appealed to me whenever I found them. This is probably the silliest way there is to begin to design a sweater. Finally I chose yarn from my stash and knit a sweater for myself combining stripes and waves. The wave motif is very common in Peruvian textiles and easy to transfer to knitting even though it's far less detailed than in fine weavings.
    I used bands of wave patterns and for my larger motif I designed a double wave inside a tilted rectangle.
   Many of my sweaters evolve as I knit them. For example, I often decide what to put on the sleeves once I get there. Instead of doing all kinds of math to figure out the sleeve decreases I lay out a sweater I like and put the new sleeve on top of it. Then I do my decreases to make it the same shape. As I knit the first sleeve I record what I do so I can make the second sleeve the same way.
   As I was sitting around admiring my handiwork on my almost completed sweater, I noticed a big boo-boo on the front where stitches in one row went astray. You can probably see it right away. (In this picture it's on the top wave band on the right side.) How did I not see that when I knit it!? Perhaps I was watching TV.
Fortunately there was an easy way to fix that with duplicate stitch.
Now I could show the front in public without being embarrassed.
I used steeks for the arm holes and the front band. After I cut the front steek I picked up stitches and knit the bands and their facings. Anything other than a zipper would have interfered with the pattern on the front bands. I found a company on-line that sells lightweight separating zippers in a plethora of colors so I was able to buy one that matched my band color very closely. Mr. Rududu drilled some small holes in that heavy plastic part at the bottom of the zipper so I could sew it down by hand.
  The sleeves are slightly inset for a better fit. After setting aside a few stitches for the underarm, I added my steek and decreased a stitch every other row for a couple of inches on each side of the steek. After grafting the shoulders, I cut the steek and picked up stitches around the arm hole. The sleeves were knit down to the cuffs and finished with a facing, as were the collar and bottom band. Purling two rows before the facing makes for a very neat edge. By the way, I started the sweater with a provisional cast on and added the lower band after I had decided what the bands would be like. All part of my "method".
  Most people use patterns and I've heard that people who design their own sweaters generally plan them out in advance. These people lead far less exciting lives than I. Failure to plan ahead can lead to exciting trips to the local yarn store in search of something very specific.  Perhaps the ladies at the yarn store wondered why I hadn't just bought all the yarn specified in the pattern. Wait a second. What pattern?
But now I do have a pattern. I'm so smitten with the feel of the alpaca and the lovely colors available I plan to continue collecting colors and some day I will turn to Peru for more inspiration.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

In search of unknown fruit

  I love fruit and in Costa Rica I've tried quite a few that were new to me. Let's start with what is a favorite fruit and one I've only seen in Costa Rica: caimito. It's a sphere, purple on the outside and shading from purple to white on the inside. I like to eat it with a spoon as the texture is a bit like custard. A lot of Costa Ricans don't like it because it has some latex which makes your lips sticky. A tip I haven't had a chance to try yet: after eating caimito rub your lips with some oil to remove the latex. I find the flavor so beguiling that I don't mind some stickiness.

   Did you know that the cashew nut we eat grows on the outside of a fruit? Every nut represents a fruit, perhaps explaining what cashews are so expensive. Native to Brazil, Ticos and other Spanish speakers call the fruit and nut marañón.  People make a juice of the fruit and it's one fruit I just don't like. It smells bad to me. I'll stick to eating the delicious nuts.
   The following photo shows two fruits: the red manzana de agua or water apple and mamón. Water apples, originally from the Malay peninsula and nearby areas, are quite bland and juicy. I guess they would be really good to quench a thirst on a very hot day. Not a frequent need in Monteverde so I don't eat them often. Mamón, a South American native,  has a crisp shell around a large seed. In between the seed and the shell is a small layer of tart flesh. It's fun to peel the shell off with your fingernail and pop the insides in your mouth so you can gnaw the fruit off the seed. The fruit doesn't come off the seed easily so it's a good way to pass some time.
 Here's another picture of water apples, a grenadilla and some green jocotes. A fruit from the cashew family originally from Central America, jocotes are now also cultivated in Asia. You eat jocotes whole, skin and all. Perhaps I would like them better if Costa Ricans let them ripen but here they are sold while still green so they are tart. I think maybe people sprinkle salt on the them, the way they do with unripe mangoes.
  Grenadilla is a fruit related to passion fruit. The outside has a crisp, papery layer. Inside the many small seeds are each inside a small packet of juicy fruit.  I scoop the insides into a blender and run at top speed briefly. Next I use a sieve to remove the seed particles. The seeds are edible so a few bits of seeds getting through isn't a problem. Then I make a smoothy with some yogurt, sugar, and ice. It's very aromatic and quite similar to passion fruit.
 The following fruit is the one that inspired me to write this post. One of my English students brought some as a gift for me from her family farm. It is called rose apple or manzana de rosa. I've never seen this fruit for sale. It's  peculiar in that the seeds are inside a hollow space. The fruit is a bit crunchy and has an astonishing perfume like roses.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Guatemalan temari adventure

   On our recent trip to Guatemala, I was inspired to take some blank temari balls in the hopes of finding someone to put embroidery on them. Guatemala, of course, is justly famous for wonderful textiles including embroidery, but I've never seen it applied to a ball.
  We stayed about a week on Lake Atitlan. In Panajachel I found Berta Mendoza who was willing to try her hand on this project. She usually embroiders in the style of Santiago Atitlan, which is full of birds. I spent quite a few hours in Berta's shop with her and her daughter Sofia. Sofia is a university student studying child development and she lent a hand with the embroidering. Sofia also happens to speak three languages fluently and several others enough to function in the shop. Berta is somewhat more limited linguistically as she only speaks three languages. By the end of the week I was completely in awe of them.
  Besides talking about life in general and having many laughs, I showed them how to make temari and explained how they might make a good craft item to sell given the popularity of Christmas tree ornaments in North America.
  All the embroidery was done freehand without any reference material. The birds are rather whimsical—I wish these beautiful species really existed. This one looks a bit like a parrot.
 Below is a bird in flight on the other side of the same ball. Berta and Sofia took great pride in their work. I was surprised that they wanted to  carefully outline the birds because I thought they looked quite nice before that time consuming step. However I did agree after it was done that it added a lot.
A second ball I took was black and the birds they put on it were even more extravagant.
I'm looking forward to seeing Berta and Sofia on my next trip to Panajachel and to seeing in what direction they take temari balls. This project was an amazing way for me to make contact with real artisans and I'm very grateful for the experience.